I am leaving this morning on my long walk home, from Philadelphia to New Hampshire.
Daily blogging is not a chore I choose, but I will post a couple of photos daily, on Instagram, which will also appear here, and on facebook. They are geotagged, if you’re concerned with my whereabouts. Or want to look for me on the road.
If the British tradition sees walking as a kind of recovery, while the American tradition is about walking as discovery, maybe the real American way is more about covery–covering up past crimes. The boundless American future has always been predicated on the emptiness of its past, specifically, the pre-Columbian emptiness of the North American landscape. The New World, it was once said, lacked history and inhabitants: terra nullius. The old world walker can wander Druid wonderways, trace an ancient pilgrimage, or tramp castle-to-castle down the Danube. If an American pedestrian wants to contemplate ruins, or wonder who walked this path before him, he has to consider the American Indians.
Herbert Welsh’s obituary in the New York Times (June 31, 1941) left no doubt that he had spent his life thinking of them: “FRIEND OF INDIANS”
“The Red Man,” as the Times obituary writer was not ashamed to call him in 1941, had been driven West across the continent, but not from the pages of The New Gentleman of the Road. Stopping in in Milford, Pennsylvania in 1924, and feeling nostalgic about an eariuer excursion, Welsh wrote:
I have another and less pleasant recollection of that summer spent in Milford, in the form of a little monument, a shaft of gray stone, set up through the enthusiasm and energy of a Presbyterian pastor, then resident in the town, to record the virtues of Tom Quick, one of the early settlers of that region. If I remember correctly, — I am open to correction, — this pioneer of Anglo-Saxon civilization had, by his trusty rifle, the old muzzle-loader pea-ball pattern, caused the death of no less than 40 Indians — men, women, and children. He lay in wait for them and picked them off from behind bushes or trees on every convenient opportunity. This was under lex talionis, — lawyers will amend my Latin, if it needs the same, — as Tom’s father had been shot by an Indian. My white brother seems to have gotten more than even with his adversary. I can understand Tom Quick’s feeling and his method of expressing it, but what has always puzzled me was to understand the school of theology to which the Presbyterian pastor belonged who felt called on to raise a monument to a hero of that type.
The Tom Quick Monument, destroyed by vandals–heroes of Welsh’s type, perhaps– in 1997, was recently restored. Progressive thinkers have added an interpretive plaque, explanation, if not an excuse, for the benighted, earlier, commemoration of “a hero of that type.” I want to see it for myself, because it is somewhat hard to figure out on the Web just what it looks like today. (A postmodern species of Robert Musil’s “invisible monument.”)
An indefatigable fundraiser, Welsh’s travel memoir also recorded meetings on his walk with donors to, and supporters of, the Indian Rights Association he had founded in 1882. Welsh visited the Sioux Reservations that year, and recorded his impressions in Four Weeks Among some of the Sioux Tribes of Dakota and Nebraska. Trained as an artist, Welsh evinced a Romantic faith in the potential of the Indians to acquire “civilization.” I won’t try to explain all his complex opinions about the Native Americans here. That is well done in a dry, but exhaustive, book, The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years 1882-1904 (1985). The historian William T. Hagan highlighted this line from Four Weeks:
The Indians at Rosebud quite unconsciously presented to us a series of brilliant pictures, with a touch of the Orient about them, which might have inspired the genius of a Delacroix or Decamp.
I note not merely the Romanticism, but the literal Orientalism, with which Welsh quite unconsciously observed the Natives. The Indian Rights Association was assimilationist, and committed to Christian education and private ownership of land among them.
The IRA had been founded…
… with the object of acquainting the people of our country with the actual condition and needs of the Indians, and of so enlightening public sentiment as to ensure adequate support for legislative and executive measures for securing and protecting the just rights of the Indians, and maintaining the government’s faith plighted to them in treaties.
That faith in treaties did not seem much on Welsh’s mind as he strolled the banks of the Delaware River, where a shameful, if non-violent appropriation of Native land by the Quaker State had taken place in 1737: the infamous Walking Purchase.
The Delaware (Lenni Lenape) Indians of Pennsylvania were convinced by Thomas Penn, a son of William, that the white folks had found an old deed. In 1686, Penn said, his ancestors and the Indians’ had agreed to sell the Quakers a tract of land upland from the Delaware River, “As far as a man can walk in a day and a half.” I pick up the story from Harry Emerson Wildes (The Delaware, 1940)
All was ready for official measurements. The “Walking Purchase” was to made in the fall of 1737. There was a difference in in point of view, however, as to the methods to be used. According to Indian interpretation, a friendly party of whites and Indians would set out, strolling leisurely in gentlemanly fashion, until thirty-six hours had elapsed. There would be frequent rests for food and smoking, and the day would be limited to the time the sun was visible.
Sounds like the kind of walk up the Delaware that I would enjoy.
Thomas Penn had other views. He combed the colony for young and wiry woodsmen. Selecting … the best athletes to be found, he trained them well and ordered them to make themselves thoroughly familiar with the route. They were instructed secretly to blaze a trail through the woods, and to clear it of all underbrush.
Penn’s athletes made it into a competition, built their own track, and won. The Lenape were pushed west and landed in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, where Welsh would have found them in the early 20th century. In the early 21st, as late as 2006, the Delaware were asking the United States Court of Appeal, 3rd Circuit for relief from the fraud. They failed, on an interesting interpretation involving sovereignity.
I want to keep the natives in mind as I walk in May, in part because I want to walk and write in the British tradition, and recover something. Do any traces of Ancient America remain along my path?
A cryptic clue in Saturday’s puzzle in theFinancial Times: “2D: Dry ditch (6)” The six-letter solution is “desert,” of course. A classic “double definition?” Almost but not quite, because, in this case, the rains have both left–or ditched–the desert, and left it without water–dry. The two definitions: arid and abandoned, are the same, really.
This is the way Herbert Welsh went. I call it the Desert of the Imagination, because I can’t think of anything to say about this particular suburban wasteland, and I will be parting from Welsh and Dorothy Whipple, to meet them again on the Hudson River,
I admit that I learned, as I scribbled on this fascinating National Geographic map of “The Reaches of New York City” (1939), that I might yet see the Baptist Meeting House 1792, the William Bull and Sarah Wells House, the Clinton Home, or Washington’s Headquarters. These are the sites highlighted on this masterpiece of Modernist cartography: which appears to have been drawn with a compass, tracing a couple of hundred mile radius around the city. Within a couple of leagues, the New York World’s Fair was taking place in Flushing Meadows that same year–that dream of the Modernist project. When Welsh was walking from the Delaware to the Hudson River in the Twenties, Benton MacKaye and Lewis Mumford (whom we will meet later, along the Housatonic) were founding the Regional Planning Association of America (1923-1933), to promote their Modernist vision of a great city that was dependent on, and responsible for, the country surrounding it.
Their short-lived organization might have displayed this map in its office, to illustrate its purposes. The Appalachian Trial is one of the few monuments of the RPAA.
And “thinking regionally,” I see that almost every step of my walk, or Herbert Welsh’s, can be traced on this map. It’s not just the walk: It seems I have lived my whole life in “The Reaches of New York City” (1939). Poor as we were, my mother insisted that we read the New York Times every day–even if it arrived a day late in New Boston, New Hampshire in the 60s. When my older brother needed a suit, we went to Manhattan, to Brooks Brothers, to buy it. (My clothing came from the Fat Boy’s Shop, despite the fact that I was named, if misspelled, after a rival New York clothier–Paul Stewart Statt.)
I’ll be taking the low road, the Appalachian Trail, a few miles south of here. It seems less deserted, if not less traveled by, thanks to the work of the Regional Planning Association of America. Along the high road, which is now more or less I-84, Welsh described these three days as “30 miles of desert land–financially speaking–that lay between me [in Port Jervis] and General Washington’s headquarters on the Hudson, Newburg.” No bank would cash his check. Today a “financial desert” more commonly describes some inner city, or immigrant suburb,where poor people, who have no bank accounts, are forced to pay outrageous fees to cash a check; as a “food desert” is a place where the poor can’t buy fresh fruits and vegetables, even if they have the funds.
This is only a metaphorical desert, but these early 20th-century maps illustrate the the emptiness of the land. Explore the old maps of Port Jervis, Goshen and Schunemunk; they mark only a few houses, and have a dun and dusty look.
Welsh’s route seems a wasteland in other ways. Places to stop were few and shabby: like Hackett’s Hotel in Goshen–“a poor apology for a hotel, surely,–untidy, out at elbows, and when we saw the condition of the bedrooms assigned to us, depressing in the extreme.”
Welsh tried to enjoy a church supper in Slate Hill, but “a window, wide open just back of me, let in an abundance of cool air upon me when I was overheated. I think cold or rheumatism, or ‘malicious animal magnetism’ must have attacked a muscle or tendon in my left leg.” Then one of his “Trot-Moc” moccasins disappeared. Dorothy Whipple nursed him back to health, but the shoe was lost forever.
And we dined delightfully, but most extravagantly, at Fauchère’s at a cost of $4.00, but it was well worth the expense.
This small hotel remains. The Hotel Fauchère is one of the few stopping places about which I can positively state: Herbert Welsh slept here. I also hope to sleep, and eat, here: I am willing to pay more than $4.00.
Here and all throughout this romantic enchanted region I felt like one in a sweet and pleasant dream as the memories of more than thirty years came floating back. That was prior to the time of autos. Mr. Fauchère, founder of the celebrated house that bears his name, a French Swiss, was then alive and in the meridian of his glory as chef of great skill. His table was justly famed all over the country.
If Milford, a hundred years ago, awakened in Welsh a sweet and pleasant nostalgia for the Gay Nineties and his thirties, what dreams will I dream here? Nostalgia is a longing for something, a home perhaps, in our individual lives or collective history, that may have never existed. On my walk I will be on my way home, but what is this place called “home,” and where, and when?
At the Hotel Fauchère today, guests come to stay in a place that, a hundred years ago or more, was a popular spot to reminisce about the good old days. Oil paintings from the Hudson River School, hanging on the hotel walls, remind us of the romantic longing of an earlier time for an enchanted past, earlier still. Nostalgia does for time what a hall of mirrors does for sight: endless reflection and re-reflection.
In paying my bill to the very courteous and attractive lady in charge of the desk at Fauchère’s hotel she aroused my interest extremely by telling me that she was the granddaughter of its founder. I could see the old man, as she spoke, as I remember him thirty-five years back, standing attired as a true French chef, with his white cap and apron, toward summer evening time, after the labors of the day were over, in his vegetable garden, lovingly regarding those onions, squashes, egg-plants, and the like which his skill on the morrow would transform into delectable dishes for the pleasure of his guests.
Hebert Welsh wrote many books, advocating fairness for Native Americans, civic reform in Philadelphia, and condemning the shameful use of torture by the American military in the Spanish-American War. The one that I’m following is The New Gentleman of the Road. Published in 1921, it was first written as a turn-of-the-century proto-blog, in a series of “letters” to the Philadelphia papers.
Here is the sixth letter from his 1921 journey. Note that it’s the record of day in May, not published until October. Timeliness isn’t what it used to be.
Welsh’s prose style is of its time, too: Our hero has stopped at the Joan of Arc Hotel in the Delaware Water Gap.
A French lady welcomed us with a friendly charm that was in itself a benediction. This became more pronounced when I ventured to address her in her own tongue with an inquiry as to whether something to eat could be had promptly and whether a bottle of beer of the prohibition variety, strictly legal, and devoid of alcohol, might also be expected.
On earlier walks, Welsh could enjoy a full-strength glass. But in May 1920, despite Mademoiselle’s assurances:
I made several further inquiries about the beer, to each of which our hostess replied with a diminished smile and a tone of lessening confidence. Its sparkle and foam never appeared. I feel quite sure now that they never had any existence.
The synecdoche of that “sparkle and foam” is rather lovely, if a little fusty. A reader of The New Gentleman of the Road will come across countless such classical figures of speech, but not much introspection. He doesn’t, for instance, ever ask or answer the obvious question: Why walk? But I will venture to address that mystery on my way.
The Delaware is the longest un-dammed river in the eastern United States, and it’s pretty wild even as far downstream as Philadelphia–spring freshet washes out roads and homes in the New Hope area every year. After devastating hurricanes in 1955, the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed to build a dam at Tock’s Island. (Mislabeled as “Cock’s Island” in the center of this topographic map from Herbert Welsh’s day.)
Talk of the Tocks Island Dam went on for twenty years, in 1975 the plans were finally filed away and abandoned. “Though it had promised drought abeyance, flood mitigation, power generation, and lake-based recreation, in the end, the project was deemed too costly.”
It’s thought of as an early victory for the environmentalists, but note that the official story blames its high cost. We do not, for the most part, protect our wild rivers because they are scenic. They remain wild as long as they can’t be monetized.
Walking here in 1915, Herbert Welsh “traveled a broad, good automobile road, but not many machines passed going north or south.” The scenic charm of the Delaware Water Gap escaped him somehow. I will be traveling the full thirty miles of the Joseph MacDade Recreational Trail, where I will be paying attention to wildness that is the preservation–if only preservation by neglect–of the world.
I’ll be walking the towpath from New Hope to Frenchtown, New Jersey, to Upper Black Eddy, then to Easton.
When Herbert Welsh passed this way a hundred years ago, this was still a working canal. Built in 1832, it floated limestone, lumber, and mostly anthracite coal to the port of Philadelphia until 1931. Welsh praised the “winding, secluded, dustless canal from New Hope to Easton…” and the “smooth and even tow-path,” even if he had to share it with the mules. “A lovely walk of two days it was, and one that to those who cannot get across the sea to Holland, I heartily commend”
I heartily concur with Welsh’s sense that the canal seems somehow “European.” Perhaps it is the civilized amenity of a cheerful, if somewhat shabby, country hotel every ten miles or so, where a hot and thirsty walker can enjoy a cool glass of beer.
(While he was a steadfast pedestrian who kept a steady pace, Herbert Welsh never missed the chance to pause for a cold beer, an ice-cream cone, or a pretty girl. I admire his old-fashioned style)